I haven’t been the happiest of campers lately. I’ve been frustrated at the disorganisation of Labour’s journey of change and frustrated by our inability at times to lose some of the worst habits picked up in Government. At times I, like others, have questioned whether Labour has a proper theory of change and a sense of how to implement it.
But today, the role of Labour optimist will be played by… me! Yesterday I read same interview that Mark Ferguson read and agreed with Mark’s assessment that the intent should be congratulated. I completely understand Mark’s caution about whether these words are enough on their own. However, they don’t come on their own. Because elsewhere in the Guardian is practical innovation being considered by Ed that could be revolutionary in its implications.
The idea that Labour will become a conduit through which people can save money on their energy bills has several important implications.
Firstly, this gives Labour a whole new way of relating to voters. It’s not just saying “we understand your pain” when talking to people who know how hard it is to make ends meet. A conversation that is ultimately frustrating and peripheral for both parties. It’s offering a real and practical solution. Labour may actually go onto the doorsteps with an offer for – rather than an ask of – voters.
Secondly, this is not a solution that requires Labour to be in Government, but does (from what I understand of the way the scheme would work) to reach a critical mass in local communities. It’s something that will help us to make a practical difference to people’s lives in ways that aren’t cruelly curtailed by a change of Government. While at the same time the need to build up a large enough customer base to make the scheme work will need Labour to be and remain outward focused in constituencies and communities in order to deliver the promise.
The critical mass needed will also be a reason for voters to talk to each other about Labour. This scheme may well be a way of developing relationships with people not normally accessible to Labour. I have to admit that I was unsure about the idea of the Labour Supporters Network. I wasn’t clear what the relationship would be or how, other than in terms of money, it would differ from a membership relationship. But this idea has energised my understanding of how Labour can change its staid understanding of relationships. I can see how, by becoming a champion of people’s consumer rights not just in policy terms as I have been promoting for some time, but in delivery too.
This move also puts real flesh on the responsible capitalism bones. And by delivering this project it will be actively shown not to be anti-business. It won’t be stopping anyone from consuming, but will be supporting them in consuming wisely. Businesses that are nimble enough to recognise that will, in fact, benefit. It’s a working example of the translation of these values from speeches that please wonks (eventually) to delivering on promises.
Finally, this truly reinforces Labour’s local election message “With you in tough times”. I’m not always a big fan of political slogans. Too often they are a meaningless babble of vague but positive sounding words (Forward, Not Back anyone?). But if Labour pursue this idea and see how it and the ethos it exemplifies can be developed, maybe we can live up to this basic promise in a way that reenergises our relationship with business, with our activists and members and most importantly with voters.